What do we do with the drunken sailor?

See how the killjoys remove all reference to booze from - uh - what's that? No references to booze in this one? Um, why did they change this one as well then. Umm...ahh...'ELF N SAFETY!

Make up some old non-sense. Sorry.

Here's a story that's been doing the rounds this past week.

BBC: 'Drunken sailors left out of rhyme'
The Scotsman: ''PC' rewrite turns drunken sailor into grumpy pirate'
The Guardian: 'Drunken Sailor gets a children's pirate makeover'
Evening Standard: 'PC brigade sobers up the drunken sailor'
Daily Mail: ''What shall we do with the PC brigade?' Children's charity cuts all alcohol references from Drunken Sailor nursery rhyme'
The Sun: 'Drunken sailor song gets PC rewrite'

According to the Standard, this is what happened:
A CENTURIES-OLD nursery rhyme has fallen victim to political correctness after government officials removed any reference to alcohol.
And, from the Daily Star:
POLITICALLY correct jobs-worths have removed any reference to alcohol from the song What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor?
It seems that PC jobsworth government officials have removed references to drunkenness fom a song about drunks. Will this madness ever end?

Obviously, this story is rubbish from top to bottom. How would government officials ban words from a popular traditional song? Is there a centrally dictated list of official songsheets that we all must learn and sing in a certain way or face the gulag?

And how are people employed by an independent charity (Bookstart) 'government officials'?

They're not, of course. And this is what Bookstart have to say for themselves:
The changes made to the much loved “Drunken Sailor” nursery rhyme had absolutely nothing to do with politically correctness or the references to alcohol. [...] the inclusion of action lyrics like “wiggle” and “tickle” offer parents and small children an opportunity to interact, have fun and enjoy acting out the rhyme together.

We love the old rhyme and it is often used in its original form, in many of our Bookstart Rhymetime sessions. However, we also think that it is fine to have fun with rhymes and play about with the words to make them accessible to new audiences.
It seems that what really happened is that Bookstart distributed packs of pirate themed stuff for under-fives, and included a version of the rhyme with different lyrics to fit in with the theme - and for fun.

**UPDATE** Here is a copy of the actual rhymesheet. See how the killjoy jobsworths have killed all the joy by inserting jolly cartoon pictures of pirates. Look at page two, where they again change the word 'sailor' to 'pirate' even though the sailor in this rhyme isn't drunk.

This is a perfect example of how Political Correctness Gone Mad stories perpetuate themselves.

Here's how the BBC opens its coverage of the story:
"Drunken sailors" have been removed from the lyrics of a nursery rhyme in a government-funded books project.

But the Bookstart charity says the re-writing of What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor? has "absolutely nothing to do with political correctness".
And here's a quote from a parent included in the Sun's coverage:
“It’s clearly meant to be politically correct but surely children that young can’t be offended by a nursery rhyme. It’s pathetic, really.”
Why should the BBC feel the need to open its coverage that way? Why would the parent hear the different lyrics and instantly think 'it's clearly meant to be politically correct?'

Because people have already been conditioned to believe that 'government funded' jobsworths regularly change song lyrics for being politicaly incorrect by countless other similar stories. Stories that are quite often rubbish. Without those, it's unlikely that anyone would think anything of playfully changed lyrics. There must be plenty of other examples of schools, nurseries, libraries or whatever singing rhymes with different words that nobody ever thinks of as Political Correctness Gone Mad because they're not about pigs, the colour black, booze, manhole covers or whatever. Hundreds of them. Because nursery rhyme lyrics get changed all the time.

I'm married to a speech and language therapist who works with pre-school children. She had a copy of one of Bookstart's pirate books ('Pirates Ahoy!') with her the other day. I've seen it. This story has apparently cracked them all up in her office, partly because the idea of Bookstart being secret language police is ludicrous, and partly because they all change the lyrics to songs and rhymes. A lot. My wife explained why to me the other day. She's good at that. She works with kids.*

Changing the lyrics to songs and rhymes is apparently a great way to get kids interested in language and confident enough to play with words themselves. On top of that, some children learn things in different ways. Some sing songs they've learned by rote, repeating the sounds without actually having a grasp on what they've been singing actually means. Kids are also more likely to remember things using the rhyming and repetition offered by songs.

On top of that, Bookstart stuff is aimed at pre-school children. Their material tends to be age appropriate. What pre-school kid will understand this:
Tie him to the taffrail when she’s yardarm under
I don't even know what it means. What kind of crazy moon language is that?Even so, the traditional song still gets sung at other Bookstart events (minus that line, presumably) - but this was done for a special promotion about pirates. It was supoosed to be fun.

With song lyrics often getting changed in nurseries and elsewhere up and down the country, it's inevitable that at some point someone will sing different lyrics to a song where it might possibly be construed as being for PC reasons - especially if people are conditioned to think this happens anyway. The BBC even references the 'Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep' nonsense in its coverage. And that was done in an exercise to teach kids colours.

Instead of people changing words to rhymes because the originals aren't politically correct, you have people who work with children changing the words to help teach the children and because it's fun. And you have another group who frown upon such playfulness, insisting the songs must be sung in a certain way at all times, creating outcry in the papers when there is deviation from their 'official' version.

So, which group is made up of humourless PC jobsworths?


Matt said...

I am so tempted to send the old macdonald alteration to the mail on the basis it was made as animals on farm are seen as an animal rights violation...

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Matt - you've frightened me so much that I've taken that bit out. Given that I know how much the papers lie about that kind of stuff, I wouldn't be surprised if someone else did that.

Isabelle said...

'What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor?' is a song about impotence – why else would you cheer when up she rises? oh those sad wangs – and the angry papers mayhap ought not to be seen to be cross that little kids can't sing about alcohol-induced erectile dysfunction.

Chris Baldwin said...

Fact is, the tabloids are liars and the people who repeat these PC stories they spread are dupes. But what is the purpose? Is PC gone mad a money spinner?

Anonymous said...

well, yeah, sort of. if the papers get gullible people to believe this shit and get them sufficiently riled up about it, said gullible people will probably want to purchase more right-wing tabloids in order to keep up with the latest entirely true antics of those loony-lefty elf-n-safety politically-correct nu-labour excessively-hyphenated jobsworths. because clearly said tabloids are (along with Noel Edmonds) the only remaining media outlets not afraid to tell the truth in this most Bonkers Britain.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

"Is PC gone mad a money spinner?"

Sort of. Editors likr Rebekah Wade and Pul Dacre bang on about how they reflect the views of their readers to sell papers. If their readers think Political Correctness has gone mad, then they'll reflect it.

But journos themselves aren't immune to confirmation bias. If some hack who thinks that crazy lefties regularly censor children's things for political reasons and learns that some nursery has changed the words of a nursery rhyme, they're going to come to the same conclusion as their readers.

Akela said...

My cubs have the song "what shall we do with the drunken Raksha" (Raksha being the old traditional cub leader name that fits the song). Does this make them guilty of PC gone mad insanity for daring to change the words? Sadly I fear it does.